Home News Center NJJN Member CPLI helps raise the minimum age of detention to 12 in Indiana

NJJN Member CPLI helps raise the minimum age of detention to 12 in Indiana

April 28, 2022
Courtney M. McSwain

In March, NJJN member
Children’s Policy and Law Initiative of Indiana (CPLI) celebrated the passage of a comprehensive juvenile justice reform bill that included raising the age of detention to 12, instituting risk assessment to divert youth away from court involvement and shoring up data collection, among other policy changes. HB 1359 was signed by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb on March 11, and came as a result of years of advocacy by the community of youth justice advocates in the state. 

“This bill reflects where we are in the state after years of advocates pushing in this direction and moving things forward,” says JauNae Hanger, president of CPLI.  

The driver of advocacy has been the Indiana Coalition for Youth Justice, a network of 70 organizations, including CPLI, that has engaged the community statewide to have a voice at the statehouse. Two years ago, the coalition successfully advocated for removing kids from adult facilities pre-trial, changes to competency laws and expungement without petition. Building on that momentum, advocates have gained youth justice allies in the statehouse, including Representative McNamara, the leading proponent of HB 1359, who helped pass funding to hire The Council of State Governments (CSG) to audit Indiana’s youth legal system.    

In its audit, CSG found that most youth in the state’s youth legal system were there for low-level, first-time or status-level offenses. Additionally, youth had varying access to diversion opportunities based on where they lived. And youth of color were more likely to be referred, adjudicated, and placed on probation than their White peers. The findings from the report provided the foundation for policy recommendations addressing diversion, data collection and raising the minimum age of detention.  

Across the country, NJJN members have been working to raise minimum age laws to lower the risk of very young children becoming trapped in the legal system. While Indiana advocates initially pushed for a raise in the minimum age of prosecution, the raise in detention age to 12 is a first step toward moving the prosecution age in the future.  

“There are over 1,000 kids 12 and under in the juvenile justice system [in Indiana], a few under 6. Most people don’t understand that’s happening,” Hanger says. “The bill didn’t go as far as we wanted it to, but it is comprehensive. We see this as building the infrastructure for best practices and moving away from justice by geography,” she says.   

Moving forward to next year’s legislative session, CPLI will focus on continuing efforts to establish a minimum age for prosecution at 12, along with legislation that addresses other critical issues such as interrogations, access to family visits for children in detention, identity protection of children in youth court, helping youth accused of low-level offenses get support outside of court involvement and ending juvenile life without parole, among others. 

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